Narratives of breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

J Clin Nurs. 2013 Nov;22(21-22):3062-70. doi: 10.1111/jocn.12033. Epub 2013 Jul 27.


Aims and objectives: To explore patient perceptions of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation and the patients' experiences of their relations with health personnel during care and treatment.

Background: Patients suffering from acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease often experience life-threatening situations and undergo noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation via bi-level positive airway pressure in a hospital setting. Theory on trust, which often overlaps with the issue of power, can shed light on patient's experiences during an acute exacerbation.

Design: Narrative research design was chosen.

Methods: Ten in-depth qualitative interviews (n = 10) were conducted with patients who had been admitted to two intensive care units in Western Norway during the autumn of 2009 and the spring of 2010. Narrative analysis and theories on trust and power were used to analyse the interviews.

Results: Because of their breathlessness, the patients perceived that they were completely dependent on others during the acute phase. Some stated that they had experienced an altered perception of reality and had not understood how serious their situation was. Although the patients trusted the health personnel in helping them breathe, they also told stories about care deficiencies and situations in which they felt neglected.

Conclusions: This study shows that patients with an acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease often feel wholly dependent on health personnel during the exacerbation and, as a result, experience extreme vulnerability.

Relevance to clinical practice: The findings give nurses insight into building trust and a good relationship between patient and caregiver during an acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive lung disease.

Keywords: COPD exacerbation; interviews; narratives; patient experiences; patient participation; trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dyspnea / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Narration*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*